Best Of :: Food & Drink
Sitting in the dining room downstairs at the Arvada Tavern, you'd never know that the upstairs houses one of the most authentic and fun speakeasy experiences in the area. Slip into the old-fashioned phone booth in the back and head up a long flight of stairs that takes you into the modestly sized but cozy and warmly lit Bernard Ballroom, where you can order one of the Tavern's beautifully crafted cocktails — the bar makes a mean French 75, as well as a delightfully orange-flavored take on the old-fashioned called an Olde Town Fashioned — and kick back at one of the well-worn wooden tables. On Friday and Saturday nights, the ballroom hosts free live music, usually jazz or bluegrass — perfect for the made-for-dancing wood floor under your feet.
When the lights came back on at the Denver Diner, it could very well have been a considered a city holiday. After a fire ravaged the iconic greasy spoon, the fate of the beloved diner seemed shaky — but nearly one year and $1.4 million in renovations later, it lives! Keeping with the same style of bright lights and squeaky booths but upgrading the kitchen and adding some modern aesthetics to the dining area, the born-again Denver Diner shines like a beacon. Day or night, it delivers consistently gooey and delicious biscuits and gravy, thick slices of pie, piles-of-meat sandwiches and some of the best people-watching on Colfax Avenue, just as it has for the past quarter of a century. Whether you're out for an early lunch with the boss on a Monday or a drunken, post-let-out meal with fellow clubbers on a Saturday night, Denver Diner is ready to serve, 24/7.Readers' choice: Pete's Kitchen
If you want a taste of authentic Den-Mex, get to Phil's Place — fast. Phil's has only held down this corner since 2002, when Phil Garcia bought the former home of Our Place (and a drugstore before that), but in this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, the dive bar looks like it's been here forever. And the recipes in the kitchen stretch back much further: Junie Garcia brought them over when she left the late, lamented Bamboo Hut for the establishment run by her son. If you need a morning eye-opener (the kitchen at Phil's opens at 7 a.m. Wednesday through Sunday), you can't beat the hefty breakfast burrito, packed with potatoes, eggs and meaty possibilities, and smothered with Junie's spicy, pork-laden green chile, which is based on a family recipe created at the Brighton farm where the Garcias grew chiles that rivaled those in Hatch for power and pungency. This is one mean green.Readers' choice: Santiago's
The best breakfast burritos come from roadside shacks, street vendors and hole-in-the wall Mexican joints, right? Well, not this year. Instead, an Italian eatery with a hip Larimer Street address (one that once belonged to the Bamboo Hut, cited above!) is delivering the goods. Americatus chef/owner Iain Chisholm has branched out into burritos with a bang, offering takeout and delivery options in five flavors: bacon, Hatch chile-chicken sausage, chorizo, carnitas and vegetarian black bean, each fattened up with crispy potatoes, scrambled eggs, shredded cheese and vegetarian green chile. Chisholm knows a thing or two about pork, so all of the sausage is ground in-house. The quality of the fillings makes all the difference; these aren't your standard two-buck bombs. But if you dig your burrito a little more street, ask for yours deep-fried. Torpedoes away!2449 Larimer St.
Readers' choice: Santiago's
It's brunch every day at the Universal, a sleek and austerely decorated breakfast-and-lunch hot spot in Sunnyside. Although the weekend specials tend to be more elaborate, we're just fine with the standard menu of Southern-inspired dishes: thick, creamy grits (heirloom from Anson Mills) offered on the side and as an always-changing "grits of the day" item on their own; biscuits smothered in a medium-spicy pork-sausage gravy; a fried-egg sandwich with Tender Belly meats; and custard toast, one of the best things to happen to bread. The huge pancakes and several scrambles are also good choices; the sheer variety of flavorful ingredients in the latter, like wild-boar sausage or goat cheese and smoked tomatoes, make them stand out. But the cornbread rancheros are truly distinctive, the moist and crumbly cornbread layered with black beans and roasted-tomato salsa, all smothered with cheese. And the Bloody Mary, a bold brew augmented by a mini-salad of celery, cucumber, olive and pepperoncini, with spicy salt on the glass rim, makes getting up on the weekends worth your while.Readers' choice: Lucile's Creole Cafe
If you're looking for a new party trick, sabering at Sarto's just might be the coolest brunch-time activity ever. Sabering is the art of opening a bottle of champagne with a sword, and at Sarto's it starts with the purchase of a bottle of bubbly. Next you'll be treated to a private lesson from owner Taylor Swallows (or a member of his staff), who loves sharing his mad swashbuckling skills with the world. And while sabering is typically saved for ceremonial occasions, we think Sunday brunch is as good a reason as any to celebrate.
More than thirty years after it first opened on Bannock Street, Racines just keeps powering on. At breakfast any day of the week, you'll find newscasters, professors, politicians, developers, brokers and just about every other kind of suit in this town strategizing over Eggs Mazatlan, bacon pancakes and Farmers Breakfasts. The restaurant's spacious corner booths in its current home are perfect for negotiating, and if there are bumps in the discussion, Racines features a full bar with strong Bloody Marys, craft brews and a wonderful selection of original cocktail recipes to help smooth things over. Those liquid assets also appeal to folks who come in later in the day to power up, a crowd that ranges from eighty-year-olds who've been coming here for decades to disaffected eighteen-year-olds who think they just discovered the place. For all of Denver, Racines remains the place to get down to business...even if it's monkey business.
The duck confit Benedict at Lou's Food Bar is cozy comfort food that lands in just the right spot. A buttery biscuit holds a nest of crispy kale topped with the confit and a pair of poached eggs so delicate they could be mistaken for duck eggs, and the whole thing is lightly drizzled with citrus Hollandaise. And if bird is the word, the perfect pairing for this tasty dish is the fried chicken that just so happens to be a topping at the extravagant Bloody Mary bar.Readers' choice: Snooze
The New American menu at Brazen lends itself to unique takes on the tried and true, which is a good thing for the diners who have turned this folksy spot into a Denver destination. Where innovation has really paid off, though, is in the non-traditional eggs Benedict served during the Saturday and Sunday brunch. Called a Peanut Butter & Fresno Benedict, the concoction marries — naturally — peanut butter and Fresno pepper jam with cheddar, bacon, poached eggs and Hollandaise, all served atop lightly toasted ciabatta. It's sort of reminiscent of Elvis's peanut butter sandwich, but made classier with the addition of cheese, and spicier because of the jam. It sounds weird, we know, but trust us: You'll start craving another order soon after you finish the first.
Sometimes the mood strikes for bottomless mimosas on, say, Thursday at mid-day — but most places offer the deal only on weekends. Time to head to Breakfast on Broadway. You want bottomless mimosas at noon on Monday? Done. How about 9 a.m. on Friday? Yep. You get the picture: Whenever BOB is open (breakfast and lunch only, 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily), it features an $8.50 bottomless-mimosa deal. The drinks are nothing fancy — just J. Roget and regular OJ — but the proportions are generous, as are the portions, because this joint takes bottomless seriously. The staffers do ask that you eat something, but that's easy, because BOB cooks up some eggs-cellent dishes: pick-your-ingredients scrambles, French toast stuffed with Cointreau cream cheese, and a killer Reuben. No reservations at this popular diner, but you can call thirty minutes ahead to get on the list. Not a mimosa fan? The "nightshift" Bloody Mary is two-for-one from 7 to 9 a.m. weekdays.Readers' choice: Root Down
The Curtis Club's bottomless mimosas aren't the cheapest in town ($13 per person), but we toast the presentation at this eclectic spot, which serves things like a fat, juicy wagyu burger on a brioche bun and caramel-apple French toast that tastes more like a decadent bread pudding during the restaurant's weekend brunch. The decor is funky but appealing, with cedar-lined walls surrounding a space filled with random old and new furniture and featuring a lake mural and a creepy deer bust. But there's nothing weird or wacky about the beakers of cranberry juice and fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juices that come on a tray with any mimosa order, and once they arrive, the staff does the best bubbly thing ever: They leave the bottle on the table for you to pour — and when it's empty, they bring another one. That means no stingy pours, no waiting to beg a server for another. You're in total control. Cheers!
The sign on the outside of Gaetano's promises the "Biggest Bloody Mary Bar in Town," and we have yet to find one bigger. Or better. The longtime north Denver Italian eatery — once owned by a famous Mob family, then by the Wynkoop group and now an independent — puts out a Bloody Mary spread with so many options that you could make your drink a meal in itself for just $6 a glass. Bartender Caitlyn Smith is responsible for the selection, and she can be found early every Sunday slicing cheese into sticks to add to the vast array of veggies — including an extensive selection of pickled ones — as well as such ideal add-ons as olives, bacon and beef jerky. Three different tomato blends are offered for the base — a house mix that's heavy with Italian seasonings, a Clamato version, and one made using V8 — all of which can be spiced up even further with any of 75 hot sauces in a variety of strengths, and eight seasoning mixes. Be sure to try the homemade infused vodka with pickled cucumber and garlic for an extra kick.Readers' choice: Lou's Food Bar